But from our perspective, one key outcome of her speech is the announcement that the UK will seek to replace its current situation with an FTA and not with some sort of association or associate membership status. Many are likely to cheer this news—not least because it brings some clarity after months of uncertainty over objectives. But, frankly, from the perspective of companies operating in or out of the UK, it should be viewed with some alarm. Why? Because it means the UK will have to negotiate the most amazing FTA that has ever been negotiated with a very green, untested team up against one of the very best, most seasoned team of officials with the deepest bench of staff members on the planet.
The Brexit debate has given rise to many bewildered discussions about the apparent difficulties of negotiating trade agreements. After all, as at least one commentator said, if we can put a man on the moon, surely the UK can negotiate a few trade agreements? Of course. Compared to putting a person on the moon, many things seem easy. But the complexity of negotiating trade is not to be underestimated either. To illustrate why this is so challenging, just consider the following example of orange juice.
To launch negotiations on a free trade agreement with Singapore (or any other country) would mean starting to build a house without a clear foundation. No sensible partner would want to do such a thing. Instead, potential trade partners will want to wait until the specific terms and conditions of Brexit are sorted. Then, and only then, will it be possible for the UK to figure out what sort of obligations can it take up with the EU, at the WTO, and with potential trade partners.